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Residents prepare for 67th Annual Winterhaven Festival of Lights

Janete%2C+resident+of+Winterhven%2C+sets+up+her+Curious+George+display+that+reads+Curious+George+visits+Winterhaven+on+her+yard+on+Friday%2C+Dec.+2+in+Tucson%2C+Ariz.
Selena Quintanilla
Janete, resident of Winterhven, sets up her Curious George display that reads “Curious George visits Winterhaven” on her yard on Friday, Dec. 2 in Tucson, Ariz.

Residents of Winterhaven have been gradually completing their holiday light displays during the first week of December, preparing for the opening night of the Festival of Lights on Dec. 10.

Arthur “Art” Clifton, a Winterhaven resident, has used the same lights he started out with when he moved to the neighborhood years ago.

White icicle-shaped lights hang from his front awning, just as they always have.

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“We’ve been using these same lights here since we first moved in, which was about 38 years [ago],” Clifton said.

Clifton said he is thrilled that the festival now only includes one drive-through night. His favorite part of the Winterhaven experience is the people who come through to appreciate the neighborhood lights.

“It’s amazing, the people that come through,” Clifton said. “Everybody’s in the greatest mood. I love it—it’s well worth it.”

Sean Doyle, another Winterhaven resident, moved to the neighborhood about a month and a half ago. He said he looks forward to participating in the festival this year.

“We’re really excited, especially because we have our little boy,” Doyle said. “We wanted to bring him up in this kind of atmosphere where they really get into the Christmas spirit. He sees that all the lights are going up, so he’s more alert to what’s going on and is asking about Santa Claus.”

Doyle had to make a few extra stops at the store to buy lights because he got less than he had anticipated.

“We’re trying to … get good-quality so that way it lasts 38 years,” Doyle said, nodding to the longevity of his neighbor’s Christmas facade.

Although his arsenal of illumination includes nets and strings of lights and even some solar lights, Doyle isn’t super worried about winning any of the festival competitions this year.

“Honestly, I just want it to look nice and kind of up to par with everything else,” Doyle said.

Each year, the houses are judged for various titles. Some of this year’s awards include Best Use of Lights, Southwest Christmas, TEP’s Favorite and Best Dressed Vehicle.

The most prestigious competition is for the CB Richards award. CB Richards created the festival in 1949 after visiting a similar display in Beverly Hills.

The festival lasts from Dec. 10-26 and is free and open to the public from 6-10 p.m. every day. Groups in cars can drive through the neighborhood during the drive-through night on Dec. 26.

Winterhaven Hayrides and Arizona Party Bikes are also available by reservation to ride through the neighborhood.

Festival goers can also donate to the Community Food Bank at every entrance to the neighborhood.

The city of Tucson stopped funding the festival in 2010, and since then, festival organizers have reached out to the community and local businesses for financial assistance.

Robin Dolezal, the festival chair, said the event costs around $70,000 to put on, the majority of which is used to pay for barricades, insurance and off-duty police officers. Dolezal said they have applied to receive funding from Casino Del Sol and the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, a previous year’s title sponsor.

Dolezal said they have seen some community support, but the festival is still in need of a title sponsor.

“The festival is going to happen no matter what this year,” Dolezal said.

Dolezal, a Winterhaven resident, said the festival always brings a cheerful buzz to the neighborhood and the Tucson community. He said around 200,000 people come through the festival during its two-week run.

Residents of Winterhaven do not have to decorate—participation in the festival is completely voluntary, but Dolezal said the particiaption rate in the neighborhood is “just immense and incredible.”

Karen Miller has been living in Winterhaven since 2006. Her decorations include tons of lights, a Santa’s workshop scene in the front yard, fake snow blowing into the yard and street, a holiday village scene in her window and inflatables.

“I would say there’s probably a good 30 of them,” Miller said, referring to the inflatables.

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Miller said winning a display competition is always an added incentive, but her family decorates for the fun of the festival.

“It’s a free event, and it’s something we can give back to Tucson,” Miller said. “It’s just for fun, and it’s all friendly competition.”

Miller’s husband, Jeff, is a first-generation Winterhaven resident, and their son is a second-generation resident. Miller said her favorite part of the festival is the community involvement.

“We all feel like we are a part of it,” Miller said. “It involves the community and you get to know your neighbors better because of that, so that’s always really nice. It just becomes more of that hometown feeling.”

Lauren Aguilar is another first-time festival participant who has lived in the neighborhood for almost a year.

“I definitely think it will be exciting. I enjoy people-watching anywhere else,” Aguilar said. “Especially around the holiday season, I feel like people are a little more cheerful and just more in the spirit.”

Aguilar is excited to have friends and family over, build a fire and enjoy the holiday vibes.

“You are coming here for a purpose—to be happy and look at lights and see other people and just kind of enjoy,” Aguilar said. “Come out, enjoy, see the pretty lights. Stay warm, because it’s going to be cold.”


Follow Isaac Andrews on Twitter.


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